21 Jan Career Change: Lessons Learned and How to Avoid the Overload Trap
Making the career change leap
In 2010, I made a major career change, a huge shift to a full-time pursuit of doing what I truly love for a living. My first career was corporate: as in suits & ties, negotiations and meetings, and a steady paycheck. I don’t miss my tie collection, but some days I do miss that steady paycheck! It’s a setting I thrived in for many years and one that opened countless opportunities to travel, learn, and grow.
It didn’t come easy though–I invested many years in earning two university degrees, took risks to volunteer for challenging projects, and worked hard and long hours to deliver results. Those efforts were rewarded with opportunities to work in many countries on projects that excited me. I made some wonderful friends along the way as well. I’m grateful for this first career, but I eventually reached a point in it where I craved a change, a shift fully into the realm of entrepreneurship with a sole focus on delivering value at a personal level more so than at a company level.
This led to my second career, which is in coaching, teaching and writing. I don’t work less now: I work more, much more. I also earn less, much less. Yet, I’m very happy in my second career. This career change, while not easy, was 100% worth it. The time has flown by and I’m very grateful for how this journey has unfolded and is evolving. As I continue to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, what’s on my mind that I wish to share with you is how important it is to recognize key ingredients in your life and to optimize the various combinations of those ingredients. To explain, let’s talk cooking.
As is the case with most television shows, I discover programs years after shows start to air, which explains why I learned quite late about a show called Chopped. In this show chefs are given a surprise collection of ingredients and a time limit to prepare a meal with them. Some chefs succeed and are able to prepare creative and tasty meals with a diverse set of ingredients and others crash and burn. Oh, the drama!
This reminds me of when I made the big decision to start my own business and then asked myself … now what?
Identifying your ingredients
Facing this question, I found myself staring at a collection of ingredients (visualize them in little bowls like in a cooking show). Looking at my virtual kitchen counter, I saw a bowl containing passion, another with years of endurance racing experience, one with a graduate degree and career in technology, and another with a love for coaching and teaching. I saw more bowls off to the side: one with project management and planning skills, another with a love for cycling and running, one with real joy from writing, another excited by fire engines and firemen rushing to the scene of a fire, one with a love for playing musical instruments, another with experience transforming from sedentary and overweight office worker into an endurance athlete, one managing virtual teams in a global company, etc. “So many bowls–this is going to be a great meal,” I mistakenly thought.
Staring at all of these ingredients I asked myself which ones I should use to prepare the “meal” of a fulfilling and viable business. Should I use all of them? Or just a few or a choice selection? Which ones for which course? How could they be combined? Which would lead to a profitable and sustainable business? Which are fun and enjoyable to work with? What kinds of products or services could be created from these ingredients?
The perils of overcooking: when more is less
Here’s what happened: in the first few years, I tried to use as many of the ingredients as possible, primarily by tossing them into their own separate cooking pans and turning the burners up.
The result was twofold:
1) I learned a tremendous amount, built a foundation for the business and established credibility in my new career.
2) I split myself into too many directions and worked non-stop without bringing in enough income to cover business expenses.
During that time, I also added some new ingredients to the table, but didn’t yet know what to do with them. I was the chef who used every spice in the spice rack and every available ingredient on a quest to serve the most amazing 12-course meal, all the while on a one-course budget! The resulting meal was fun, albeit stressful to prepare, but it wasn’t a winning combination, certainly not for the long-term.
Making spaghetti: the perils of taking on too much
In these years, I built a gym and training community, started interning and later coaching with SEALFIT, completed and started working for the Unbeatable Mind Academy, and scaled up my online coaching business. I learned and improved, and while I still made mistakes, I thankfully got more right than wrong and the business grew steadily. More importantly, I learned that I was helping people, which was my primary driver in the first place.
By the time I reached year 4, I started to feel overwhelmed — overwhelmed with travel and such a wide range of “jobs” in the coaching business. On top of running a gym, coaching multiple times a year in California for SEALFIT, and blogging more, I was also pursuing more motivational speaking opportunities, filming video tutorials, and teaching running workshops.
When to simplify the menu
Feeling a mix of fulfillment and concern of not having a profitable enough business, I started thinking more about which ingredients to rely on, which to use sparingly and which to simply toss off the table. This started with a decision to simplify the menu. I walked away from a couple of projects. I turned down some work and pursued other work that didn’t immediately provide income, but that I viewed as a long-term investment. This is very important: I sought out mentors, authors and speakers and opened my eyes and ears to learn more.
I paired down the ingredients list and further simplified the menu. Simple and high quality wins out over complexity every time. I discovered some new ingredients that I really liked, so I invested more time into nurturing them and experimenting with their use. There were still moments of stress and overwork and LOTS of travel, but it was exciting to explore new combinations while relying on the ingredients that I could best trust as being right for me.
Finding the recipe that works
Going into year 5, I decided that my primary goal, the dish I most wanted to prepare, was to write a book. And my secondary goal was to do more work in motivational speaking. To make that possible, I needed only the highest quality ingredients, and in just the right amount–nothing more. So, I massively scaled back my online coaching business, sold my gym, stopped my extensive travel back and forth between SEALFIT HQ in California and Zurich. It was a radical change from the world I’d been experiencing the past few years, but it was worth it.
This change allowed me to focus fully on writing. The process of writing brought about a strong sense of being in a flow state, where actions, energy and relationships felt so right, vibrant and meaningful. I absolutely LOVED this period of time, when I knew that the combination of ingredients was really coming together nicely and that the series of decisions, risks and experiences leading up to that moment in time was worth it.
Finishing and publishing my book was my moment of delivering my dish to the table and enjoying it with friends.
With the book project completed, I look again at which ingredients I want to cook with. It’s a continual process–assess your ingredients, decide what you want to prepare, cast off some ingredients and invest in others, and then start cooking!
What are YOUR ingredients?
So, now I ask you: if you are contemplating a career change, what ingredients are on your table? What combinations are possible? Which ingredients are best set aside and which are calling out to you to use more of? How about searching for a new ingredient or two to add to the assortment or deepening your knowledge and experience with a certain ingredient that’s important to you? Give this some thought, but please don’t wait too long to start cooking! Pick some ingredients and GO! You may strike it right the first time or perhaps you’ll embark on a long journey of creative experimentation and refinement. Start the journey!
Remember, doing what you love doesn’t mean the same thing to each of us. It doesn’t necessarily mean a career change, although it may mean a shift of focus or change in your priorities. It all starts with the ingredients though. Be open, be creative and invest in whichever path you believe will lead to fulfillment. You can always adjust and course-correct along the way.
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. He is also a Co-Founder of BridgeX Teams LLC, a global virtual team building company. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.